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Guests go all around town
Visit gives tourism workers a peek at Liberty
WEB 0224 CVB tour 4
A visitor samples and purchases confections from Jeff Davis, right, owner of Jeffs Candy Kitchen and Bake Shoppe. - photo by Photo by Danielle Hipps

2009 tourism in Liberty Co.

• Generated 570 jobs

• Produced $11.72 million in payroll

• $84.32 million in direct tourist spending

• Created $2.59 million in local tax revenues

Source: 2009 USTA Economic Impact Report via Ga. Dept. of Economic Development

Imagine an ideal budget-friendly vacation. One might picture traipsing the coast, observing the arts, visiting historical markers, sipping wine and snacking on sweets.

Now imagine doing that at some of Liberty County’s most charming destinations. That’s what nine state tourism representatives did Wednesday and Thursday during a whirlwind tour of the county.

On Wednesday afternoon, Liberty County Convention & Visitors Bureau program assistant Brian Hulsey and Hinesville Downtown Development Association Executive Director Vicki Davis guided the information specialists from six of the 11 Georgia Visitor Information Centers through downtown Hinesville.

“Downtown is the hub of activity for any community — it’s where business and commerce and government activities all initiated when the community was incepted 175 years ago,” Davis said.

Davis explained the city’s recent capital projects and aesthetic philosophy before the group went into Uncommon Grounds and Jeff’s Candy Kitchen and Bake Shoppe for a local food experience.

As she sipped on an iced beverage from the coffee shop, information specialist Leanne James looked around the room in awe and spoke with Davis about its warmth.

“That coffee shop, it’s just extremely charming,” she said. “It seems like one of those places where you would walk in and see people hanging out — it seems like a good gathering place.”

James, who works for the Georgia Visitor Information Center in Augusta, said the experience offered a “small-town community feel” that is hard to capture elsewhere.

“It’s not like a lot of downtowns that I have seen,” she said. “Everything seems to be under construction or being renovated, and there’s a lot of pride taken in the downtown areas, which, unfortunately, you just don’t see in other areas.”

The crowd also visited the Hinesville Area Arts Council gallery, where artist Benjamin F. Turner Jr. gave a tour of his exhibition.

Carey Ferrara, regional tourism representative for the Georgia Coast, said the trip is the first familiarization, or “FAM,” tour to visit the area in a couple of years.

“Liberty County has not been on the tourism radar for a long time…,” she said “And the ultimate goal is to get them to send tourists back to your community.”

The department operates under the Georgia Department of Economic Development, which currently is trying to help communities view tourism as a form of economic development, Ferrara added. According to data from the GDED, Liberty County tourists spent $231,014 on an average day for tourism-related expenses in 2009.

“The history that you have here reaches every war, every demographic background …,” she said. “There’s something for kids to do, there are romantic retreats, … the place where Martin Luther King Jr. played baseball.”

Despite the recent economic downturn and current instability, Ferrara said her office has seen a resurgence in tourism — and areas like this can benefit from people choosing closer weekend getaways rather than weeklong excursions.

“A sense of place is something that you have to have if you want to have tourists. … ” she said. “It has to be authentic and unique. The way to do that is to keep your historic buildings, and to keep your stories and your old jails. This is the way you do that.”

Dunham Farms, Fort Morris, Dorchester Shooting Preserve and the Sunbury Crab Company were among the tour’s other stops, according to Leah Poole, CEO of the Liberty County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“For a lot of communities, (this group) is the front door to Georgia …,” Poole said. “They’re encouraging people to come off the interstates and see the unique things that communities have to offer.”

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